It took me a few hours to get over the nicotine poisoning.
It has taken me longer to get over the humiliation. 6 months to be precise.
I tell you what ... before you read any further, have a look here and here. I just want it acknowledged up front that I wasn’t suddenly overwhelmed by a crazy notion to use tobacco in cooking. Tobacco in cooking is A Thing. A thing that chefs and bartenders do, although fairly unusual. I am not an experimenter in the way of say, William Buckland, – if I cook something, there’s normally a precedent for it. I first came across this recipe for the Richard Corrigan fig tart with tobacco syrup years ago and have been intrigued by the idea of it ever since.
So when the Secret Cake Club announced that the theme for December would be ‘secret ingredients’, I knew instantly what I wanted to do. I would make a chocolate cake and souse it with tobacco syrup, using this recipe which suggests that tobacco syrup goes well with bitter chocolate and stone fruits.
I had a very interesting shopping trip to Devlin’s tobacconists in Subiaco. I’m not a smoker so this is not a shop I would normally ever go into. However, I wanted to do things right. I wanted to get the best ingredients and this meant going to a proper tobacco vendor rather than buying a pouch of cigarette stuffing from the local supermarket.
I have to say that the assistant in Devlin’s was lovely to talk to and so very helpful.
I told him all about my plans and he told me that he had never heard of tobacco-flavoured syrup before. He let me smell all the different tins and packets of tobacco, asked me if I wanted a particular flavour (it comes in cherry, Irish cream, whiskey… who knew?).
I told him I wrote a blog and he was good enough to let me snap as many pictures as I wanted.
Because I wanted to put the best cake possible in front of the cake club members, I didn’t skimp on the ingredients. I bought the best tobacco available. $50 for 50g. The most expensive herb I have ever bought. (I will never baulk at the cost of saffron or vanilla beans again!). I was assured that it was pure compacted leaf, that it had very few preservatives in it, that it would give a delicate earthy scent. Plus it looked exactly like a delicious brownie and, to my mind, this boded well (and which goes to show how wrong I can be sometimes...)
|Not a brownie. Not at all.|
The cake that the syrup was to infuse was a classic Nigella recipe – her quadruple chocolate cake. It was an easy to follow recipe (although it did take longer to cook that she recommends but that is always the fault of my oven) and it turned out beautifully.
As it cooled on the rack, I set about making the tobacco syrup. I followed the recipe exactly – made the sugar syrup, took it off the heat, infused it with the crumbled tobacco leaves for 5 minutes – not a moment more – and then strained it.
As the man from Devlin’s had promised, it had a rich earthy scent, something like autumn leaves and bonfires. I liked it. It was different. It was a really good secret ingredient. Clever, clever me!
I tasted it. It reminded me of strong sweet tea. After a few moments, it started to burn in a way that was similar to chilli burn. But I like chilli so no problem, right?
I took my beautiful chocolate cake and skewered it all over. Then I poured the syrup on. While it cooled, I made a cute little star-anise Christmas wreath. Looking back, that was probably my most successful creation of the day.
When the cake was ready, I decided that I’d better sample it. I cut a very thin slice and ate it. It was gorgeously dense with chocolate and syrup. I’d used Valrhona chocolate (again, only the best ingredients for my cake club peeps). Again, there was that burning sensation. This time around, it wasn’t as pleasant.
At this point I decided that it might not be a good idea to spring tobacco on people as a surprise. I thought that I would take the cake along, disclose the ingredient to the Cake Club members, then let them try it or not as they wished. Satisfied with this decision, and tired after a morning’s baking, I went to have a lie down.
When I got up, I wasn’t feeling too good. I was a bit giddy and there was a creeping sense of nausea in my gut. Cake Club was only about an hour off. I know that that one of the things that I hate people to do to me is too cry off an event that I have organised at the last minute, so having committed to go, I was determined to make it.
It was at the point that my nausea became bad enough that I decided that I wasn’t even going to put the cake on the table. I decided to take a bottle of bubbly along to compensate for being cakeless at Cake Club.
When I stopped at the bottle shop to buy the wine, I threw up in the car-park. (Classy, I know.)
I was at Cake Club long enough to tell my story, drink a glass or two of water, and then head home. Shortest. Party. Ever.
I held it together for the journey home. Then I threw up in the garden and again when I got into the house. It was the most pathetic hangover scenario, sitting on the floor of the toilet, slumped against the wall with my cheek against the cool tiles. It took me back to the time of my first ever hangover (Hill Head Sailing Club in Portsmouth and more whisky and drys than is good for any 18 year old).
I slept it off. I needed painkillers for the headache that I had when I woke up.
Things that I have learnt:
· Always do a trial run of your recipe – especially when you are being a bit avant garde with your ingredients.
· Do your research. To be fair, none of the recipes that I looked at warned that there would be any effects from the tobacco syrup. I saw one that said “Tobacco is a carcinogen and you can omit it if liked” but then alcohol is also a carcinogen and I am still partial to sherry trifle, coq au vin, and rhum babas.
Things that I want to say:
· Not to brag, but I normally a really, really good cook. Generally, I don’t poison my dinner guests, and I always send them away from my house full and happy.
· Tobacco syrup or just tobacco in cooking: might be better handled more professionally but I’d advise caution if you ever encounter it.
· Please, Secret Cake Club Perth, no life time ban.